Asia Minute: Coral Reefs and Fish Among Casualties of South China Sea Territorial Disputes

Jun 13, 2016

Credit Danilo Cedrone / United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization

The South China Sea is a center of territorial disputes involving half a dozen governments. China’s construction activities and military patrols in the region have drawn criticism, but there’s also a growing chorus of protests from another group: environmentalists. HPR’s Bill Dorman has more in today’s Asia Minute.

There’s no doubt the South China Sea is one of the world’s strategic pressure points.  Most discussions center on territorial disputes--- competing claims involve China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines.  But there’s also increasing attention on the impact of these disputes on fish and coral reefs.

The headline of a weekend article in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post took a scolding tone: “Fish and Reefs Under Siege as Feuding South China Sea Claimants Refuse to Cooperate.”  The story says illegal fishing, poaching and destruction of coral reefs have all increased due to a “lack of intergovernmental cooperation.”  A study last year found local marine resources have been overfished to the point where they are at 5% to 30% of their levels of 1950.

China has tried to present its construction of artificial reefs as a “green project” …with a foreign ministry spokeswoman saying “the impact on the ecological system of coral reefs is limited.”  That is, to put it mildly, vigorously disputed by conservationists.  The Guardian quotes one marine biologist talking about Chinese dredging around the Spratly Islands…saying “a substantial amount of this damage is irrecoverable and irreplaceable.”